The Rise of the Valkyries

Seyward Darby, Harper's, September, 2017

Lana Lokteff

After Donald Trump took office, an activist named Lana Lokteff delivered a speech calling on women to join the political resistance. “Be loud,” Lokteff said in a crisp, assertive voice. “Our enemies have become so arrogant that they count on our silence.”

Lokteff, who is in her late thirties, addressed an audience of a few hundred people seated in a room with beige walls, drab lighting, and dark-red curtains. The location, a building in the historic Södermalm neighborhood of Stockholm, Sweden, had been secured only the previous night, after several other venues had refused to host the event, billed as an “ideas” conference. Lokteff wore a white blouse and a crocheted black shawl over her trim figure, with a microphone headset fitted over her long blond hair. In addition to the attendees seated before her, she spoke to viewers watching a livestream. “When women get involved,” she declared, “a movement becomes a serious threat.”

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She is a member of the “alt-right,” the insurgent white-nationalist faction that backed Trump’s campaign. A motley coalition of online provocateurs, the alt-right opposes political correctness and multiculturalism. Many of its supporters rhapsodize about the eventual creation of white ethnostates in Europe and North America.

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The alt-right is widely considered a movement of young white men, and Lokteff was trying to rally women to the cause. “It was women that got Trump elected,” she said.

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Lokteff said that “lionesses and shield maidens and Valkyries” would inspire men to fight political battles for the future of white civilization.

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She and her husband, Henrik Palmgren, run a media company called Red Ice. With studios full of high-end recording gear, blue lighting, and plush furniture, Red Ice is a slick propaganda platform for white nationalists.

Lately, Lokteff has been using Red Ice to amplify the voices of self-made female pundits. All of them are bitterly disappointed in the feminist agenda and believe that nationalism has their true interests at heart.

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The question of why they’ve embarked on this crusade has a practical answer: No movement can survive on men alone. As one female pundit recently wrote, the prospect of the alt-right attracting women “terrifies the left, and it should, because they know that once a threshold of female involvement is reached, there’s no going back.”

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A thunderstorm hovered over Charleston, South Carolina, turning the sky the colors of a fresh bruise, on the April evening when I met Lokteff. She and Palmgren divide their time between America and Sweden — he was born and raised there — and they were spending the spring in the Lowcountry. Lokteff had suggested that we convene at a posh rooftop bar, where we sat on faux-wicker benches as European pop music pounded from nearby speakers and wind pummeled the white tarp over our heads.

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The din the alt-right has managed to create belies its undoubtedly marginal position relative to other political movements: Less than half of Americans polled in December 2016 had even heard of it, and the size of its ranks is unknown. “What sets it apart,” according to George Hawley, the author of the forthcoming Making Sense of the Alt-Right, “is the ability to troll itself into the conversation.”

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On the internet, alt-right pundits can control their narratives and, if they want, hide behind handles and avatars. Acolytes say anonymity is necessary because they’re part of a misunderstood counterculture; exposure could cost them jobs and friends, even invite violence.

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In Charleston, Lokteff explained how Red Ice entered this arena. Palmgren launched the company in 2002 in Gothenburg, Sweden. Its name refers to a Norse myth in which the world was created in a cosmic void between two realms — one frozen, one red-hot. Red Ice disseminated conspiracy theories about U.F.O.’s, Freemasons, the Illuminati, and 9/11. Then, around 2012, the outlet shifted its attention to conspiracies about race — the idea that liberals were perpetrating a white genocide, for instance.

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Red Ice found a new audience in the nascent alt-right and now serves as a digital hub for the movement. It produces newscasts of events like the Stockholm conference and Spencer’s protest in May against the removal of a Confederate monument in Virginia. Its bread and butter, though, is weekly talk-radio-style programs. The segments are available in audio and video formats, much like Rush Limbaugh’s in-studio streams, and reach more than 120,000 subscribers on YouTube. Red Ice also has paying members, who can access additional content. Lokteff declined to reveal the number of members, but each one shells out seven dollars a month — “the cost of a hipster coffee,” as she put it.

Red Ice is ambitious. Earlier this year, it entered into a partnership with the N.P.I. to launch a media company modeled on Breitbart but situated further to the right. Red Ice also helps run AltRight.com, which debuted in January and kicked off a $50,000 crowdfunding campaign this summer. Lokteff, meanwhile, is an aggressive talent scout. She scours the internet in search of budding voices and tracks down bloggers and other online personalities whom Red Ice viewers recommend as potential guests. When she finds one, she sets up interviews via Skype — video if the person is comfortable revealing his or her identity, audio if not. The interviews, which often run an hour or more, rarely turn confrontational. They are intended to create a sense of ideological momentum.

Lokteff hosts a program called Radio 3Fourteen — her birthday is March 14 — which frequently showcases women’s perspectives on white nationalism. Her guests toe the alt-right’s party line on gender, which mimics that of fascist and white-power movements of the twentieth century: By design, the sexes are not equal, physically or otherwise, but they are complementary and equally important. Men are strong and rational, women yielding and emotional; men are good at navigating politics, women at nurturing family units; men make decisions, women provide counsel. The survival of the white race depends on both sexes embracing their roles.

In April, not long after we met, Lokteff invited three female bloggers to appear in a video chat about “femininity in the modern world.” One of her guests was a brunette with a soft, raspy voice who went by the pen name Bre Faucheux. Faucheux, who was born in New Orleans, wasn’t always a white nationalist. A few years ago, she was a young aspiring novelist who posted videos of herself on YouTube, mostly focused on reviewing books; she knocked All the Light We Cannot See, which won the Pulitzer Prize, for having young “protagonists who don’t protag,” or make decisions.

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Last summer, her social-media tone changed radically. In July, she posted “Unpopular Opinions,” a video in which she said that higher education had taught her nothing — “they’ll let anybody into college” — and described giving up on feminism because it had been “hijacked by a bunch of freaking nutbags.” Several weeks later, she posted a rant about publishing’s fixation on racial diversity. “Every single culture in existence has resisted diversity by means of killing each other, segregating against one another, and saying it was even immoral to even be around one another,” Faucheux said in defense of books with only white characters. “Taking comfort in one’s own ethnic group or race is not racist.”

The video piqued Lokteff’s interest. She invited Faucheux to appear on Radio 3Fourteen. Faucheux, who said “pure anger” had inspired her to record the tirade, complained that in college, when she suggested that the curriculum judged “white civilization” more harshly than others, she was called ethnocentric. Lokteff chuckled knowingly. “It’s only wrong when whites do it, right?” she replied. “How dare you? Check your white privilege,” Faucheux shot back in mock horror.

After her first appearance on Red Ice, Faucheux made a video expressing her newfound devotion to the alt-right. She explained that she had been reading blogs and watching videos that excoriated feminism, liberalism, and diversity. Recognizing the evils wrought by the left — “the collapse in national identity, the destruction of the nuclear family . . . and the very real threat of white genocide” — left her despondent. “I couldn’t even go to the mall to buy myself a pair of jeans,” she said, “without noticing the trends that I had been reading about taking place all around me.”

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Until she went on Red Ice, Faucheux had felt alone, and as though she had to censor herself. “Talking to Lana felt like taking in an entire glass of water after months and months of chronic thirst,” she said in her video. She’d lost friends as a result of her political coming-out, but no matter: “My days of engaging in white guilt are over.” Her YouTube bio now reads, “Conservative. Traditionalist. #AltRight Enthusiast. American Nationalist. Pro Gun. Anti-Left. Right Wing Blogger. Author. YouTuber. Completely Deplorable.”

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The April group chat on Radio 3Fourteen seemed to speak to women who, like Faucheux, felt that an ever-liberalizing society was telling them how to be and what to believe, spurning them at any sign of parochial behavior. The bloggers noted how unhappy modern women are. To an extent, research bears out this idea: In 2009, the economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers published a seminal study which found that as women’s rights expanded, their happiness declined.

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The group also chastised feminists for being conformists. “A lot of these liberal women, they’re not risk-takers, even though they have piercings or blue hair,” Lokteff said. “What we do, the things we talk about, I don’t think it can get any more high-risk.”

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Lokteff presented its mission to reverse decades of progressive change as radical, even thrilling.

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“It’s okay to think like us,” Lokteff said. “If you do, there’s a whole tribe here that you can join of girls that actually have your back.”

Two years ago, Lokteff, who identifies as pagan, discovered a YouTube personality who could speak to pro-white Christians: Ayla Stewart, a Utah woman whose handle is “Wife with a Purpose.” She’s in her thirties, with a round, dimpled face, wide blue eyes, and a warm voice. Stewart’s homemade videos were often about her dramatic political transformation. She used to be a feminist, a supporter of gay rights, and an avowed pagan. She married at nineteen, studied women’s spirituality in graduate school, and had a child. She wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. “I was really into home birth and extended breast-feeding,” Stewart told me. Then her husband left, and she became a young single mother. She felt pressure to get a job and not worry about needing a man — or children, for that matter. But that wasn’t what she wanted. “Children are so precious, we should do everything we can do to bring them into the best environment,” she told me. “And a two-parent household with a mother and a father is that best environment.” Stewart felt “shunned and ostracized and called down” for her beliefs by acquaintances and online critics.

After meeting her second husband, Stewart had more kids, joined the Mormon Church, and drifted even further from feminism. A friend recommended that she read Fascinating Womanhood, a conservative answer to The Feminine Mystique. Written in 1963 by Helen Andelin, a Mormon mother of eight, the book spawned a movement promoting traditional marriage. The text promises to teach women “how to cause a man to protect you,” “how to bring out the best in your husband without pushing or persuasion,” and “how to be attractive, even adorable, when you are angry.” Stewart found comfort in Andelin’s assertions that the sexes have different needs. “Men like to go out and earn a paycheck and feel respected and loved,” she told me. “Women want to be cherished.” The book helped her see her first marriage in a new light: One reason it had failed, she decided, was that she hadn’t provided her husband with the respect he required. Fascinating Womanhood also bolstered her belief that feminism demonized white men. “Being in liberal circles, the white man was the enemy — the guy who always had power and control, whom we had to get rid of and get women and people of color into power,” Stewart said. “It dawned on me that I’d been incredibly sexist and racist.”

In venting against feminism for betraying her, she began to draw connections with current events. In September 2015, she posted a tirade blaming feminism for the European refugee crisis. “Why, logically, would anyone allow hundreds of thousands of refugees to come over into your country, to live off of your social welfare programs, to increase horrible crimes like rape, and to, honestly, quite frankly, take over your culture?” she asked. Her answer was white guilt, which had seeped into politics because “women waste our votes” on liberal politicians. “Women see downtrodden people as their children,” Stewart told me, “and want to be very motherly toward them and throw open their borders.”

The video went viral — more than 122,000 views to date — and when Lokteff saw it, she invited Stewart onto Radio 3Fourteen. They quickly got onto the topic of Stewart’s break from her political past. “Liberals think they’re so enlightened, so much better than everyone else, but really they are just completely brainwashed, don’t you think?” Lokteff asked. “Exactly,” Stewart replied. Her relief was almost palpable.

When I reached Stewart this spring via Skype, she described Lokteff as a mentor and a bridge to the broader alt-right universe. “It was after I spoke to Lana for the first time that I found out there was this group of people who call themselves the alt-right and they believe everything that I believe,” she said.

Stewart has now been a Red Ice guest several times. This March, she appeared in a segment supporting Steve King, a Republican congressman who had tweeted, to much backlash, “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” Stewart told Lokteff, “You couldn’t restore Japan with people from Somalia.” King, in other words, was just using “common sense.”

The same month, Lokteff hosted Mary Grey (not her real name), another Christian white nationalist. Lokteff reached out after hearing “Good Morning White America,” a weekly podcast that Grey hosts with her husband, who goes by Adam.

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With its cheerful voices and jovial banter, the Greys’ podcast has a bubblegum quality.

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“An important part of our movement is to put out the truth about crimes committed against fellow whites. But I know that there is more,” Mary wrote to me in an email. “There is a place to be upset and a place to be happy, grateful, and proud of where we come from as whites.”

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In January, Mary Grey self-published an illustrated children’s book called Walls and Fences. “Why do we build walls? We have walls for protection,” the text begins, set against a colorful image of the biblical city of Jericho as its walls tumble down at God’s behest. Grey said she wrote the book “to help explain to my children why having a wall around our country” — like the one Trump has pledged to build along the U.S.-Mexico border — “is justified and a good and normal thing.”

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Stewart told me she has read Walls and Fences to her children. Her younger ones — she has six in all — regularly crawl into view in her videos. She homeschools them to ensure that their education is Christian and pro-white; she discourages interracial relationships and no longer supports gay rights. In one YouTube post, she included an image of her smiling, toddler-age daughter wearing a frog outfit. This was a homage to Pepe the Frog, one of the alt-right’s signature memes, with bulging eyes, red lips, and an oversize green head. Poking fun at Hillary Clinton’s infamous “deplorables” line, Stewart captioned the picture, basket full of adorables.

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With the exception of a few high-profile figures, all of them men, the alt-right is notoriously cagey with the mainstream media. Female pundits rarely grant interviews. {snip}

When we met in Charleston, my first question to Lokteff was, why had she agreed to talk to me? “I wanted to give you a chance,” she said. “You wrote me in a different way. You said you actually wanted to . . . hear what we’re talking about.” She added hastily, “It’s not because you’re a woman.”

A few feet away, Palmgren paced the roof’s wood-planked deck on a phone call. He is tall and beefy, with a thick beard and a “fashy,” a haircut favored by alt-right men — the sides are shaved down but the top is longer and slicked back.

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Lokteff, who is of Russian descent, said her great-grandparents fled the Bolsheviks by walking to China. Her family eventually made its way to America as “true refugees.” She clarified that today, “there’s a lot of refugees that aren’t actually refugees. They’re fleeing from poverty. . . . At what point does it stop? Because the majority of the world is poor.”

She was born in Oregon. Her parents were libertarians, but she developed more anarchist leanings as she came of age. Lokteff attended Portland State University; afterward, she worked in music production, first in Los Angeles, then back in Oregon. She considered herself the sort of woman who thought, “I’m going to take care of myself, no guy is going to take care of me, I’m not going to have kids, I’m going to travel the world.” In 2007, she happened to hear Palmgren’s Red Ice shows online. A year later, she contacted him about collaborating on a music project, he invited her to Sweden, and they fell in love; they’ve been married since 2011. They have studios in Sweden and the United States. They say they have children but won’t reveal anything about them. Lokteff claims to have received death and rape threats.

Early in our conversation, Lokteff told me how similar we were. “You and I are a different kind of woman,” she said, gesturing toward me with a freckled arm. In her left nostril, I spotted a piercing that I hadn’t noticed online; I have one in the same spot. “We’re more political, we ask questions, we’re analytical,” Lokteff continued. “Most women want to be beautiful, attract a guy, be taken care of, have their home, have their children.”

If we were so alike, in her view, how would Lokteff pitch the alt-right to someone like me, who identifies as a feminist? She turned the question around. “What is feminism to you?” she asked.

My answer — that women should have equal opportunities and be able to choose, say, to stay at home or be the CEO of a company — left her exasperated. “In the West we already had that,” she replied in a rush. “Our men have already propelled us like crazy.” She ticked off examples: White women were the first women to fly a plane (France, 1908) and to go into space (Soviet Union, 1963). Societies like the Vikings (eighth century to eleventh) worshipped gods of both genders. Feminism, the genesis of which she pins roughly to the early twentieth century, did not make things better for women, Lokteff concluded. But it did make them worse for men. “It’s easier for women to get a job because of affirmative action,” she said. “The white male is on the shit list.”

I asked how she would convince female Trump voters who, while conservative and maybe anti-feminist, didn’t share her pro-white views. Inspire fear, was the essence of her response. “There’s a joke in the alt-right: How do you red-pill someone? Have them live in a diverse neighborhood for a while,” she said. “Another thing that’s attracting normies” — people not in the movement — “is rape. Women are scared of rape.”

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Lokteff and Palmgren were formal but cordial, to me and to each other. Before I flew to Charleston, Lokteff had offered to pick me up from the airport; I’d declined. Palmgren apologized for interrupting us when he brought Lokteff a glass of water. Their ordinary behavior was hard to square with their rhetoric.

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By the end of our conversation, it had started to rain, so Lokteff and I moved inside. I asked her about the alt-right’s next steps. It was going to become a real political party, she replied, with platforms and candidates supporting white-nationalist policies, such as a ban on non-white immigration to the United States. She alluded to “a lot of people moving to D.C. right now”; Spencer recently set up an N.P.I. office in Alexandria, Virginia. “It’s quite amazing when you look at just trolling and memes and people on the internet without any kind of organization . . . how much press and attention [we’ve gotten],” she said. “That’s us not even organizing, not even pulling resources and funds and minds and skills together yet.”

When I asked if she identified as a leader, she demurred. “Maybe on some level. I’m not sure I would take credit or put myself in that position,” she said. Maybe not in the broad, hypermasculine constellation of the alt-right, but her position among the movement’s women is a different matter. “There’s always been the girl in the pack that’s been more of the outspoken one,” she continued. “I’ve never been the follower.”

Her responses were as mystifying as the phenomenon of the alt-right itself. For months, America has tried to understand what the movement wants. Perhaps the better question is, who gets to decide?

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Lokteff, though, is sanguine. “Ten years from now, a lot of these alt-right concepts are going to be very mainstream in white people’s minds,” she told me. Then, as though a light bulb had clicked on in her brain, she continued: “Look at feminism. It started as a fringe movement. Now it’s mainstream, left and right.”

[Editor’s Note: See Jared Taylor and Lana Lokteff discuss women and the alt-right here.]

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